CALHOUN STUDENTS EXHIBIT RISKY BEHAVIORS, SAYS PRIDE SURVEY - Disturbing Statistics

(09/26/2008)

By Bob Weaver

Calhoun Middle-High School's 2008 Pride Survey (grades 7-12) shows a continuing pattern of alcohol, marijuana and tobacco use that concerns parents and educators.

The indicators are similar to those in most West Virginia schools, although Pride coordinator Shari Johnson previously said Calhoun students have some of the most risky behaviors in West Virginia.

While the alcohol, marijuana and tobacco statistics are disturbing, the survey's violence indicators raise a number of issues, with some school officials doubting their accuracy.

At the close of the 2008 school year, 274 surveys were included in the Calhoun Middle-High School study, students took the survey with parental permission and guarantees of anonymity.

In question, the survey reports that 9.1% (24 students) covering grades 7-12 said they carried a gun to school in the past year.

The report says 17.8% (48 students) said they had carried a gun for protection while NOT in school, while 17.8% (48 students) said they participated in a gang.

Also among the Violence Indicators, 42.3% (112 students) said they had threatened a fellow student; 27.8% (74 students) said they had been hurt at school; 25.7% (68 students) admitted to being afraid at school and 29.2% (79 students) said they had been in trouble with police.

Twenty-two students (8.2%) said they thought often or a lot about suicide.

Calhoun Middle-High School principal Karen Kirby said "I don't believe 24 students brought a gun to this school for protection."

"I believe the phrasing of the questions are culturally biased," Kirby said, not in touch with rural students, indicating the questions appear "pretty ambiguous."

Pride Survey officials told the Herald they essentially stick behind the accuracy of their survey, saying there is a "lie detection systems built into the survey," also saying the survey has used independent evaluators to test reliability and validity.

Schools have often been blamed for alcohol and drug problems, while Pride Surveys have consistently developed data that such use is far more likely to occur outside of school.

Doug Hall, president of Pride Surveys, told the Herald that "Kids are more honest than their parents" in responding to questions about alcohol, drugs and behavior, saying the survey has high validity and reliability.

Hall said community members tend to have a negative reaction toward schools, asking "What are they going to do about the drug problem?"

He said, in fact, the hundreds of thousands of surveys clearly show that most of the alcohol-drug use occurs away from school, most often in evenings and on weekends when school is not in session and when students are with friends.

The Calhoun Middle-High School survey shows that most alcohol, marijuana and tobacco use - school is by far the least popular place.

Most use of the three substances was at home, in a car or at a friend's house, on weekends, after school or before school.

About 7% of the students in grades 7-12 said they had used alcohol at school during the past year.

About 7% of the students in grades 7-12 said they had used marijuana at school during the past year.

About 10% of the students in grades 7-12 said they had used tobacco at school during the past year.

ALCOHOL, MARIJUANA AND TOBACCO USE AND AVAILABILITY

The report says that 65% (average) of all students (grades 7-12) said they had used alcohol in the past year, with 73% of high school seniors admitting they had used alcohol.

The alcohol use in the past year was 59% for 7th and 8th graders, with an increasing percentage through grade 12.

The percentage drops considerably when asked about weekly and daily use.

About 23% (56 students) of 7th graders said they used alcohol weekly, while 31% of 8th graders and 30% of 9th graders say they used alcohol weekly. Interestingly, the weekly use among students decreases in grades 10 through 12.

Marijuana is by far the most frequently used illegal drug. Not covered in the Pride Survey is prescription or over-the-counter concoctions that students frequently say they abuse.

Over 26% (average) CM-HS students say they used marijuana during a one year period, with 40% of 12th graders and 25% of 7th graders admitting to use. Weekly use by grades 7-8-9 was 10-15%, increasing to 17% among seniors.

Over 50% of all CM-HS School students surveyed say they used tobacco during the past year.

The highest average was about 70% among 10-11th graders, with 44-52% of 7-9th graders admitting to annual use.

In using tobacco weekly, the highest averages was in grades 11-12 with 42-45%, with 23-32% of students in grades 7-9.

About 78% (average) say they perceived the use of tobacco as harmful or very harmful, with lesser numbers indicating risk with use of alcohol and marijuana.

They said 75%-85% of parents disapprove of the use of tobacco and marijuana, with 64% disapproving of their alcohol use.

About 61% (average) of CM-HS students said alcohol was fairly easy or easy to get, 43% (average) said marijuana and 65% (average) said tobacco was easy access.

About 78% of CHS seniors said alcohol was easy to access. About 66% of seniors said there is easy access to marijuana and 88% easy access to tobacco.

In grades 7-8-9 between 42-67% said there is easy access to alcohol, 29-49% indicated easy access to marijuana, 43-74% easy access to tobacco.

Pride Surveys have been used in over 8,000 US school systems since 1982 to gather data on student tobacco, alcohol, illegal drug use and related risky behaviors.

It meets certain requirements of No Child Left Behind.

Principal Karen Kirby said the school is taking an active position to deal with problems defined in the Pride Survey.

While there are zero tolerance policies, she said the school system makes efforts to help students with risky problems.

Calhoun County Board of Education members have yet to receive a copy of the survey, which was returned in June.


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